Schools reopen in New Delhi with air pollution falling

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Schoolchildren protest outside the Indian Environment Ministry against alarming levels of pollution in the city, in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Air pollution in New Delhi and northern Indian states peaks in the winter as farmers in neighboring agricultural regions set fire to clear land after the harvest and prepare for the next crop season. The pollution in the Indian capital also peaks after Diwali celebrations, the Hindu festival of light, when people set off fireworks. (AP Photo/Shonal Ganguly)

NEW DELHI (AP) — Schools reopened on Wednesday in the Indian capital with toxic air level coming down by more than half since authorities declared a health emergency last weekend.

With strong winds blowing away pollutants, the air quality index at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi read 155 as compared to 500 over the weekend that was 10 times the recommended WHO level.

Air pollution in New Delhi peaks around Nov. 1 due to smog from festival fireworks and smoke from the burning of stubbles in agricultural fields.

A Supreme Court-appointed panel temporarily banned construction activity in the New Delhi region to control the dust in the air.

Authorities also barred smoke-spewing cargo trucks from city streets, experimented at limiting the number of cars on the road and tried to snuff out stubble and garbage fires and ordered builders to cover construction sites to stop dust from enveloping the area.

But the battle is not over as authorities tackle a large amount of toxic foam floating in the Yamuna River, caused partly by high ammonia levels emanating from industrial pollutants. A weekend Hindu festival saw thousands of devotees offering prayers standing in the foam.

Water from the river is chemically treated before being supplied to Delhi’s nearly 20 million residents as drinking water.

“The water is absolutely black in color,” said Hari Lal, a New Delhi resident who was on the river bank Wednesday. “The water is all chemical.”

Kujan Sahani, a worker from eastern Bihar state, complained that his nose and eyes burned and he was feeling breathlessness.

Environmental activists say many rivers across India have become dirtier as the country’s economy develops, with city sewage, farming pesticides and industrial effluents freely flowing into waterways despite laws against polluting.

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